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When the past is present…


Michael Slager’s Lawyers Want Him Out Of Jail Because Walter Scott Had Drugs In His System

By Harriet McLeod, Reuters News Service

CHARLESTON, S.C., Sept 8 (Reuters) – An unarmed black man fatally shot by a white former patrolman in South Carolina in April had used cocaine and alcohol in his system when the police officer said he wrested control of his stun gun and pointed it at him, court documents filed on Tuesday show.

In this image from video, police officer Michael Thomas Slager checks on Walter Scott after he was shot by Slager in Charleston, S.C., on April 4, 2015. (Feidin Santana via AP Images)

In this image from video, police officer Michael Thomas Slager checks on Walter Scott after he was shot by Slager in Charleston, S.C., on April 4, 2015. (Feidin Santana via AP Images)

Michael Slager, 33, was fired from his patrolman job in North Charleston after being charged with murder in the April 4 death of Walter Scott, 50.

Video of the shooting captured by a bystander on his cellphone was widely distributed, and the death reignited a public outcry over police treatment of blacks and other minorities.

Defense attorney Andy Savage said he would ask a judge to set Slager free on bond.

“It wasn’t just a cold-blooded shooting of a guy in the back and (authorities) knew that,” the defense attorney told the Post and Courier newspaper on Tuesday…

The bystander’s video showed Slager firing at Scott’s back as he ran away and Scott falling, though it did not show an earlier confrontation. In the video, Scott appears to be unarmed.

Slager was indicted on the murder charge in June. If convicted, he faces between 30 years and life in prison without the possibility of parole. No trial date has been set.

Savage plans to present still photos that were extracted from the video by state and federal law enforcement officials at Thursday’s bond hearing.

Prosecutor Scarlett Wilson said she would wait for evidence to be presented in court before commenting on it…

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Baltimore reaches $6.4 million settlement with Freddie Gray’s family

By Keith L. Alexander, the Washington Post

Baltimore officials have reached a $6.4 million settlement with the family of Freddie Gray, an agreement they say is the right step for a city still recovering from riots and demonstrations sparked by the 25-year-old’s death from an injury suffered in police custody.

Freddie Grey, who suffered a fatal spinal injury in police custody after his arrest on April 12, 2015.

Freddie Grey, who suffered a fatal spinal injury in police custody after his arrest on April 12, 2015.

The wrongful death settlement, which requires final approval by a city board, comes as criminal charges are pending against six police officers in Gray’s arrest and death.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake stressed that the settlement would not affect the criminal cases, but it would avoid a drawn-out civil case against the city or police.

“This settlement is being proposed solely because it is in the best interest of the city, and avoids costly and protracted litigation that would only make it more difficult for our city to heal and potentially cost taxpayers many millions more in damages,” Rawlings-Blake said in a statement…

Gray’s family had not filed a lawsuit in the case, but their attorneys said they intended to once results of investigations by the Justice Department and others were revealed…

Even though the city does not admit liability, political and legal observers said the settlement could ease anger among city residents as the criminal cases head to trial…

Under the proposal, $2.8 million would be paid to Gray’s family this fiscal year and $3.6 million in the fiscal year that begins in July, the city said. The money would come from a specific fund set up to handle civil litigation.

The agreement was reached after weeks of talks between city leaders and attorneys for the Gray family, William H. “Billy” Murphy Jr. and Hassan Murphy. The attorneys, as well as city officials, declined to discuss the settlement Tuesday. They have scheduled separate news conferences for Wednesday…

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The Only Museum Solely Memorializing Slavery

By Taryn Finley, the Huffington Post

America needs more symbols memorializing slavery and John Cummings, a white southerner, has helped to make that happen. 

He’s opened a museum at the Whitney Plantation, the first and only museum in the country dedicated solely to slavery.  The Atlantic spoke with Cummings and produced a short video about his involvement with the museum and the stories it highlights.

“This isn’t black history we’re talking about, this is our national history. It’s my history, it’s your history,” Cummings told The Atlantic. “I would try my best to present the facts of slavery to all of the people I could find so that everyone would understand how strong the deck was stacked against the Africans here.” 

Cummings spent about 16 years and more than $8 million on the project. He opened the museum last December with Ibrahima Seck, the museum’s director of research. In the video, Cummings admitted that he initially bought the plantation thinking of it only as an investment. He said that, like many white people, he was “living in ignorance” when it came to slavery…

“Blacks are screaming prejudice to the white side and the white side is looking and saying ‘Why don’t they get over it? Why can’t they get over it?'” Cummings said. “And the blacks don’t understand that the whites don’t know what the “it” is. We’re trying somehow, here, to define what the ‘it’ is.”…

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Slave Trade Video Game Edited After Backlash

By Derrik J. Lang, the Associated Press

LOS ANGELES (AP) — An educational video game has been edited following a social media backlash over a scene depicting slaves being packed into a ship.

The creators of “Playing History: Slave Trade” removed a level Monday which featured black slave characters being dropped into a ship, similar to the video game “Tetris.”slave_trade_game

“Apologies to people who were offended by us using game mechanics to underline the point of how inhumane slavery was,” read a statement posted on the game’s page on Steam, an online store. “The goal was to enlighten and educate people — not to get sidetracked discussing a small 15-second part of the game.”

The scene was also removed from the official trailer for the title, which was originally released by Copenhagen-based developer Serious Games Interactive in 2013.

The game captured attention last week when it went on sale on Steam and was promptly chastised on social media for trivializing slavery with the stacking segment…

While the “Tetris”-like slave-stacking level has been excised from the game, a talking mouse character who guides players still says at one point: “Slave traders didn’t look upon slaves as people but as a product. They therefore stacked the slaves on top of each other to get as many as possible shipped.”

Other titles in the Serious Games’ “Playing History” series include “Playing History: Vikings” and “Playing History: The Plague.”

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Officials were wrong to jump to conclusions in deputy’s slaying

By Lisa Falkenberg, the Houston Chronicle

Three days after Harris County Deputy Darren Goforth was gunned down at a gas station in a senseless attack that has left this community shocked and grieving, the district attorney offered reassuring words.
“This crime is not going to divide us; this crime is going to unite us,” Devon Anderson told reporters, citing the diverse crowds of people who have held vigil for Goforth following the murder.

If only that message had come sooner. If only Sheriff Ron Hickman had echoed it.

Deputy Darren Goforth

Deputy Darren Goforth

If only Harris County’s top law enforcement officials hadn’t turned a white deputy’s death, allegedly at the hands of a black man, into yet another wedge between police and communities of color.

With a motive still unclear, Hickman seemed to cast early blame on a civil rights movement known as #blacklivesmatter, which attempts to raise awareness about racial bias in policing. It was inspired by a string of high-profile police shootings of unarmed black men.

“We’ve heard black lives matter, all lives matter. Well, cops’ lives matter, too, so why don’t we just drop the qualifiers and just say lives matter and take that to the bank,” Hickman said in a news conference…

Shannon Jaruay Miles, 30, who stands charged with capital murder in Goforth’s death, and it’s still unclear what motivated him. If authorities have linked him to Black Lives Matter, they haven’t said.

It does appear Miles has a long history of clashes with police, and of mental illness. The Chronicle’s Brian Rogers reported Tuesday that Miles spent four months in a mental hospital in 2012 after being declared incompetent to stand trial in an aggravated assault case.

Shannon J. Miles

Shannon J. Miles

This may turn out to be yet another tragic story of mental illness and about all-too-easy access to guns. It may have nothing to do with race…

Officers who risk their lives to protect us are worthy of respect, and one of them just lost his life. That should be the focus here. That should bring us together.

Yes, all lives matter. But then, that was always the point.

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Lawsuit: White Fla. Teacher Fired for Having Black Boyfriend

By Stephen A. Crockett, Jr.

A former Orange County, Fla., schoolteacher says her choice in mate, music and friends is the reason she was fired from her job, and she has filed a lawsuit seeking justice.

Audrey Dudek and her husband, Stacey Cobb.

Audrey Dudek and her husband, Stacey Cobb.

According to WESH, Audrey Dudek, a former math teacher at Edgewater High School, claims she was fired in 2013 after school officials learned that her then-boyfriend, now husband, is black…

According to the lawsuit viewed by WESH, school officials were “shocked and offended” after learning that Dudek’s husband, Stacey Cobb, is black, and that she associated with black faculty members. The lawsuit also alleges that some faculty didn’t like Dudek because she played “black music” in her classroom and some students had dubbed her classroom, “Club Audrey.”

“The assistant principal complained to her to her face, talking to, and I quote, those people, referring to black members of the faculty and staff,” Tzuanos told WESH.

The lawsuit also claims that during her tenure, white faculty allegedly performed a racially charged skit wearing “blackface, Afro wigs, gold teeth and baggy clothing.”

In addition, Dudek claims that her performance evaluations suffered.

The school district told the news station that the teacher’s contract was not renewed due to budget cuts…

The Florida Commission on Human Rights investigated Dudek’s claims and found there is reason to believe that Dudek was “treated differently based on her gender and race association,” according to the station.

The school district “denies all allegations of discrimination by Ms. Dudek,” noting it “will not comment any further due to pending litigation,” WESH reports…

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Commemorating 52nd Anniversary of the March on Washington

By Clarence B. Jones, the Huffington Post

During the past two weeks two great persons in the struggle against injustice, both of whom I knew, passed away. First was Julian Bond at the age of 75, the other was Louis Stokes, a 15-term former congressman from OH. He died at the age of 90.

The death of these two social justice and political warriors were on my mind as I realized that this week marks the 52nd anniversary of the August 28th, 1963 March On Washington For Jobs and Freedom. (Most persons associate their memory of The March with the soaring oratory of Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech.)…

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. giving his I Have a Dream speech to huge crowd gathered for the Mall in Washington DC during the March on Washington for Jobs & Freedom (aka the Freedom March) on August 28, 1963.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. giving his I Have a Dream speech to huge crowd gathered for the Mall in Washington DC during the March on Washington for Jobs & Freedom (aka the Freedom March) on August 28, 1963.

In thinking about Julian Bond and Louis Stokes I reflected on how much has happened in our nation during their lives, including, but not limited to The March On Washington. This, in turn, caused me to remember many other things…

For example, I remember, the morning of the March, speaking with Harry Belafonte. He had asked me to meet the “Celebrity Delegation” to the March who were arriving that morning by private chartered plane from CA. Harry “charged” me with the responsibility of meeting Charlton Heston, “head” of the “Delegation” and leading him and other to their designated seats on the March platform. Space consideration limits my written recital, of all of the names of those prominent motion picture, TV, and performing artist stars that comprised the “Celebrity” delegation…

In honor of Julian Bond, Congressman Louis Stokes, and so many, many, known and unknown heroes and heroines of the Civil Rights Movement, and in tribute to the younger successor generation of The Black Lives Matter Movement, we must find a way to stop, once and for all, this systemic assault by local police on Black and other people of color.

It is not an overstatement to remind the current generation in our country that Dr. King, and so many, many others, “marched” so that that it would not be necessary 52 years later for our children and grandchildren to march to tell our nation TODAY, that “Black Lives Matter.”…

If not now, when? If not us, who?

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10 Years After Katrina

By Campbell Robertson and Richard Fausset, the New York TImes

NEW ORLEANS — It is a wonder that any of it is here at all: The scattered faithful gathering into Beulah Land Baptist Church on a Sunday morning in the Lower Ninth Ward. The men on stoops in Mid-City swapping gossip in the August dusk. The brass band in Tremé, the lawyers in Lakeview, the new homeowners in Pontchartrain Park.

Aerial view of the Ninth Ward in East New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Aerial view of the Ninth Ward in East New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

On Aug. 29, 2005, it all seemed lost. Four-fifths of the city lay submerged as residents frantically signaled for help from their rooftops and thousands were stranded at the Superdome, a congregation of the desperate and poor. From the moment the storm surge of Hurricane Katrina dismantled a fatally defective levee system, New Orleans became a global symbol of American dysfunction and government negligence. At every level and in every duty, from engineering to social policy to basic logistics, there were revelations of malfunction and failure before, during, and after Katrina.

Ten years later, it is not exactly right to say that New Orleans is back. The city did not return, not as it was.

It is, first of all, without the more than 1,400 people who died here, and the thousands who are now making their lives someplace else. As of 2013, there were nearly 100,000 fewer black residents than in 2000, their absences falling equally across income levels. The white population decreased by about 11,000, but it is wealthier.

The city that exists in 2015 has been altered, by both a decade of institutional re-engineering and the artless rearrangement that occurs when people are left to fend for themselves.

Empowered by billions of federal dollars and the big ideas of eager policy planners, the school system underwent an extensive overhaul; the old Art Deco Charity Hospital was supplanted by a state-of-the-art medical complex; and big public housing projects, at once beloved and notorious, were razed and replaced by mixed-income communities with housing vouchers…

As before, there are two cities here. One is booming, more vibrant than ever, still beautiful in its best-known neighborhoods and expanding into places once written off; the other is returning to pre-Katrina realities of poverty and routine violence, but with a new sense of dislocation for many as well.

Old inequities have proved to be resilient. The child poverty rate (about 40 percent) and the overall poverty rate (close to 30 percent) are almost unchanged from 2000…

The ability of many residents to afford housing — in a city of escalating rents and low wages — is more compromised than before. In a recent ranking of 300 American cities by income inequality based on census data, New Orleans came in second, a gap that falls starkly along racial lines. According to the Data Center, a New Orleans-based think tank focusing on Southern Louisiana, the median income of black households here is 54 percent lower than that of white households.

Many here are more impatient than ever to fix these old problems, yet are ambivalent about all the outside expertise and weary of so much change after a decade of upheaval. Others, particularly black residents, see something more nefarious at work.

“They want to push us to the side like we don’t matter,” said Janie Blackmon, a champion of still-struggling New Orleans East, home of much of the black middle class.

New Orleans, of course, has long wrestled with disparities of race and class. For most of its history it has experienced the demographic churn of a port town and a simultaneous anxiety that it was always on the cusp of losing its character…

Success or failure will nonetheless be gauged ward by ward, neighborhood by neighborhood and block by block.

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Rhode Island Church Taking Unusual Step to Illuminate Its Slavery Role

By Katharine Q. Seelye, the New York Times

One of the darkest chapters of Rhode Island history involved the state’s pre-eminence in the slave trade, beginning in the 1700s. More than half of the slaving voyages from the United States left from ports in Providence, Newport and Bristol — so many, and so contrary to the popular image of slavery as primarily a scourge of the South, that Rhode Island has been called “the Deep North.”

The 200-year-old Cathedral of St. Johnin Providence, soon to become a a racial reconciliation center and museum dedicated to study of slavery in the North.

The 200-year-old Cathedral of St. Johnin Providence, soon to become a a racial reconciliation center and museum dedicated to study of slavery in the North.

That history will soon become more prominent as the Episcopal diocese here, which was steeped in the trans-Atlantic slave trade, establishes a museum dedicated to telling that story, the first in the country to do so, according to scholars…

Over the last decade, the Episcopal Church of the United States has formally acknowledged and apologized for its complicity in perpetuating slavery. Some Episcopal dioceses have been re-examining their role, holding services of repentance and starting programs of truth and reconciliation.

The Diocese of Rhode Island, like many others, has been slow to respond. But under Bishop W. Nicholas Knisely, who became the Episcopal bishop of Rhode Island in 2012, it is taking steps to publicly acknowledge its past. They include the establishment of a museum focused on the trans-Atlantic slave trade, slavery and the North’s complicity, as part of a new center for racial reconciliation and healing.

“I want to tell the story,” Bishop Knisely said, “of how the Episcopal Church and religious voices participated in supporting the institution of slavery and how they worked to abolish it. It’s a mixed bag.”…

Diocesan officials have already begun conversations with the public, including African-American church leaders, about the goals of the reconciliation center. While the cathedral is being renovated, planners have worked with local universities and organizations to sponsor speakers and programs that delve into racial issues. They have scheduled more forums for the fall at Episcopal churches throughout the state where slave traders once worshiped.

The museum, scheduled to open in 2017, will aim to illuminate the church’s role in the trade and the extensive but often-ignored history of slavery in New England…

Tiny Rhode Island played an outsize role in the trade, thanks to the state’s financiers, a seafaring work force and officials who turned a blind eye to antislavery laws…

In establishing the museum and reconciliation center, the church is working with the Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice at Brown and with descendants of the DeWolfs, a prominent Episcopalian family based in Bristol and the most prolific slave-trading family in the United States…

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St. Louis Neighborhood Erupts Following Fatal Officer-Involved Shooting

By Mariah Stewart, the Huffington Post and Rebecca Rivas, The St. Louis American

Heavily armed police deployed tear gas into a North St. Louis City residential neighborhood Wednesday night in an attempt to quell protests that incited after city police shot and killed an 18-year-old black man, Mansur Bell-Bey.skirmish_line

Police made nine arrests at the protest, seven men and two women. All were charged with impeding the flow of traffic, and one woman was charged with resisting arrest.

At around 11:30 a.m., St. Louis city police were executing a search warrant at a home on Walton Road near Page Avenue in the Fountain Park neighborhood. Two black men ran out the back, both armed, police said. Two officers were waiting in the alley and one of the suspects pointed his gun at police, according to police. The officers then shot and killed Ball-Bey…

Soon after the incident, people gathered peacefully in the street, though tensions were high and the community was frustrated. A few bellowed protest chants and some blocked the intersection…

Around 3 p.m., a militarized police vehicle arrived with police in riot gear, according to activist Tony Rice, who posted photos on Twitter and remained at the site throughout the evening.

At that point, police were able to coral the crowd onto the sidewalks, said St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson in a press briefing Wednesday night. Police made two arrests, and “peace was restored,” he said.

However, the two arrests angered the crowd, especially because the second man arrested appeared to be a senior citizen. The crowd also did not understand why the armed vehicles and men were present, some told the St. Louis American…

Some individuals threw rocks, bricks and water bottles at police officers, Dotson said. According to a video the police released, police formed a uniform line to protect themselves.

After the crowd refused to disperse, Dotson said, “smoke was used, like you see at the Fourth of July.” Then they teargassed the area. Rice tweeted that they did not give warnings before the teargas, and some individuals were sitting on their porches…protest_fire

At around noon that day, people had gathered downtown for a march and vigil for Kajieme Powell, a 25-year-old who was fatally shot by St. Louis Police exactly one year before.

Protest organizer Kayla Reed and other attendees of the vigil, left their demonstration in front of St. Louis Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce’s office to arrive on the scene at the intersection of Page and Walton.

At the vigil, she said, “I sincerely believe St. Louis was chosen for everything to happen here because of the racial divide in this region and because it’s in the heart of the country.”

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